Fresh off clinching their 14th straight division title, the Atlanta Braves will spend the final four games of the regular season getting ready for the first round of the playoffs.
The final run will begin with the finale of their three-game series against the visiting Colorado Rockies.
With a youthful, joyful exuberance that was there way back in 1991—when their run of division championships started—the Braves wrapped up yet another title on Tuesday night when the New York Mets defeated Philadelphia 3-2. Atlanta then put an exclamation point on the evening by flattening Colorado 12-3.
Manager Bobby Cox cleared his bench as the Braves finished the game with a lineup that included eight rookies and second-year player Adam LaRoche.
That was only appropriate, considering the Braves have used 17 rookies during an amazing season in which they have shrugged off injuries and breakdowns by several key players.
“This ranks right up there,” said Cox, standing outside his office in a champagne-drenched T-shirt that proclaimed another NL East championship. “This goes back 14 years.”
After Atlanta became the second team to wrap up a title, following NL Central champion St. Louis, everyone gave credit to the rookies. Even Andruw Jones, a leading candidate for MVP with 51 homers and 128 RBIs.
“Sure, I’ve had a good season,” he said. “But without them, we wouldn’t be here.”
Perhaps the experience of watching their opponents celebrate will be a useful tool for the inexperienced Rockies, whose roster is filled with young players.
Colorado manager Clint Hurdle said despite his team’s losing record, he can take solace in the fact that the Rockies have played winning baseball—28-25— since Aug. 1.
“The satisfaction is the growth the team showed throughout the course of the season,” Hurdle said. “They improved every month.
“What I continue to hold fast to are the absolutes of the game. The execution of the game. Our players complementing one another, not internally competing against one another. Our starting pitching putting us in position to win games, our bullpen protecting leads. Our defense playing 27 outs. If we stress those, we follow through on those, everything will take care of itself.”